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Gaming conference touches on legislation

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Legislation currently in Washington topped the issues discussed during the National Indian Gaming Association’s recent three-day conference in Albuquerque.

Land issues and Indian gaming were the topics of the discussion “Hot Legal Issues,” moderated by attorney Judy Shapiro. Shapiro indicated that there are three steps to Indian gaming: tribal recognition, having land for gaming and machines regulated by state law. According to Shapiro, recognition is not a gaming issue but recognition has been questioned by Congress since 1988, when tribes began to seek recognition for gaming purposes.

The conference buzz was about the two proposed bills amending specific parts of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., is sponsoring a bill to amend Section 20 of the IGRA, which would restrict Indian gaming on off-reservation sites.

Acting Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary for Policy and Economic Development George Skibine said that this year, Indian land-into-trust has become a hot-button subject because of proposed bills in the House of Representatives and Senate.

“Congressman Pombo’s bill is a lot harsher on tribes by regulating stricter gaming laws for tribes without land,” Skibine said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and chairman of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs, is proposing a bill to regulate the authority of the National Indian Gaming Commission over Class III gaming, and also to curb the amount of land eligible for gaming. Senate Bill 2078 will also grandfather tribes’ currently applying for off-reservation gaming. NIGA is opposed to the bill mainly because it compromises the tribal/state gaming compact processes.

The conference ended April 5 with the 8th Annual Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award Banquet. The night began with entertainment from comedians Drew LaCapa and Don Burnstick. Burnstick told his acclaimed “You know if you’re a Redskin” jokes.

After much laughter, Chief Judge Verna Teller, Isleta Pueblo, swore in the newly elected NIGA vice chairman and treasurer.

Before the night ended, NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. cued the presentation of this year’s Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award to S. Timothy Wapato, of the Confederated Colville Tribes. An advocate for sovereignty, a humanitarian and former executive director of NIGA, Wapato graciously accepted the award.

“I feel humbled to get any award, especially an award named after Wendell Chino,” Wapato said.

Wendell Chino’s son, Mescalero Tribal President Mark Chino, presented Wapato with an award in the shape of an Apache Crown dancer.

“Standing near this man, I feel 12 years old because he is done so much for our Indian people,” Chino said.

Wapato thanked his family and his wife, Gaye Kingman, who he said has been his touchstone over the years. He also thanked NIGA and urged all tribal leaders to unite for a better future for Indian country.

“Leadership comes from our elected tribal leaders. That is how we work in Indian country and that is how we should work on Capitol Hill,” Wapato said.

Wapato said the real message is that everyone working in Indian gaming is a warrior, including McCain. “We appreciate all you do, Sen. McCain, but we have to kill your bill,” Wapato said.